The general practice of law and the typical small town practice of law involves doing a little bit of all areas of law. In the general practice of civil law the attorney handles matters that typically do not require massive investments of time and money such as class actions, medical malpractice, or products liability cases. It is much easier to list the things not included in the general practice of law than to list the things that are. With this in mind, domestic relations, custody, administrative law, school law, real estate law, small estate law, contract law, business formation law, landlord tenant law, water law, and alternative dispute resolution law (which will be described in more detail in the sections following) are all matters that can potentially be handled by the general civil practice attorney. Civil law is that area of the law not dealing with crimes and punishments and your typical small-town lawyer will not handle serious felonies such as assault and battery or robbery. Your small-town general practice lawyer, if she handles defense of criminal matters at all, probably would deal with vehicle violations and the occasional DUI case or other misdemeanors, rather than the more serious crimes.
The practice of criminal defense law is that including cases of criminal prosecutions by either the County, City or State law enforcement agencies. Some criminal practice attorneys also defend federal prosecutions as well. As mentioned in the subsection prior to this, the small-town general criminal defense lawyer will typically handle misdemeanors and an occasional nonviolent felony, or felony driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated. The mildest forms of felony prosecutions are called class D felonies and typically this is the limit that a small-town criminal defense lawyer will set for himself. Attorneys who handle the more serious criminal defense matters such as class A, B and C felonies and the violent crimes tend to be exclusive in their practice of criminal defense. Most small-town attorneys will limit their practice to city or county prosecutions, whereas exclusive criminal defense attorneys will handle these offenses as well as those charged by the state or federal law enforcement agencies.
The practice of government law includes city zoning and subdivision matters as well as city organization and the conduct of city business, such as a board of aldermen or a city Council. Some government law practice involves either the defense of or prosecution for eminent domain, which is the taking by the government of property owned by private parties for government use. Eminent domain allows the government to purchase private properties even if the owners do not want to sell, so long as all the criteria for eminent domain are present. The amount paid for such properties by the government is often determined by legal means. Other government law areas decide which areas of the city or town are residential, and which areas of the city or town are open to commercial use and construction. Other matters concerning city government include disputes for the billing of town or city provided utilities such as water or sanitation. Government law that is handled by small-town general civil practice attorneys sometimes includes matters concerning County as well as city or town business.
Missouri law is as broad a subject as a person could imagine. The code of Missouri revised statutes contains some 50 volumes of laws and statutes, and to try to describe the scope of matters falling under the heading of Missouri law is simply too broad to be described in a general description such as this. Missouri law is for all intents and purposes, a miniature of federal law, except that it is much more comprehensive, covering many more areas and actions than federal law covers. There is an ongoing dispute between the politicians of this country, as to what is the scope of state law as opposed to federal. Many believe federal law has gotten out of hand and that the states should handle their own laws more often. Many believe the federal system should control more of what the states do than it does at this time. Suffice it to say that Missouri has a constitution that closely mirrors the Constitution of the United States and a code of statutes that is broader than its equivalent set of statutes dealing with federal law. A person living in a given state is subject to that state's laws, which are superseded by federal law. In plain language if state law is different than federal law, federal law controls, and if there is no federal law then state law controls. When a state law contradicts or doesn't agree with a federal law then a person who abides by that state law could still be subject to prosecution for breaking the federal law by federal authorities. In most cases matters concerning crossing of state lines either physically or through electronic medium such as telephone or computer are governed by federal law. The federal Bureau of investigation or FBI is one of several exclusively federal law enforcement agencies. The Missouri State Highway Patrol is one of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies. If the city's law or ordinance contradicts state law then state law controls, however, if there is no state law for a given behavior, and a city ordinance or statute covers that behavior, then city law or ordinance would control.
Administrative law can be said to be those laws and regulations which cover actions or behaviors of persons or institutions which are not covered by federal, state or city law or ordinances. An example of administrative law is the law governing disability and a person or person’s eligibility to receive disability payments or benefits. Another example of administrative law is that law governing the conduct of public school districts in relation to students within the districts who have disabilities. The library of administrative law and regulations is at least as extensive as the laws ordinances and codes of United States, the several states themselves and the cities or geopolitical entities within the states. Regulations are passed through administrative bodies within the states or the federal system, other than the states’ and federal legislatures. In administrative hearings to determine eligibility for disability benefits there are persons or panels who sit in judgment, who review evidence presented by the opposing sides, which are called administrative law panels or judges. When an issue is contested such as whether a person is entitled to disability benefits or not then the proceedings to determine such eligibility resemble a trial in circuit or federal courts. In other uncontested administrative hearings, more regulations or administrative laws are created and either passed, or defeated as the administrative agencies’ decision mechanisms may decide. The differences between a state’s judicial and administrative mechanisms are highly technical and not subject to simple explanation. It is probably enough to know that federal, state and city regulations are a body of rules to deal with areas not specifically covered by the laws passed by the legislatures or governing bodies of cities, states or the federal government, and that these regulations are enforced in a manner similar to city, state or federal judicial systems.
Real estate law is a body of laws and regulations that concern the use and the transfer of land. The term “real estate” is a synonym for ground or earth, which is measured in acres or square feet, depending upon how large the tract of real estate is that is involved. Real estate can be bought or sold, rented and used in any way conceivable that does not fall foul of any code, law, ordinance, or administrative rule. The laws governing real estate covers many areas, one of the most important of which is how real estate transfers upon the death of the owner. Modern probate law is such that real estate can now be transferred without court intervention at the death of the owner if the owner has executed and filed a beneficiary deed of the property he or she owns prior to his or her death. All binding land transfers are recorded in the county records in which the land is located. In many instances when one party purchases land from another the total purchase price for the land is too high to be paid in full at the time of the purchase. When this is the case the seller takes a down payment of money and a deed of trust which promises that the buyer will pay the seller the balance of the purchase price over time in such monthly amounts and with an annual percentage rate of interest on the balance that is agreed between buyer and seller before the closing, or finalization, of the sale. This deed of trust has come to be known in our society as a mortgage. A mortgage is the purchase of land where a minor percentage of the total purchase price is paid upon the signing and finalization of the deal, with the remainder to be paid in monthly installments, with the interest payments for the term of the mortgage, be it 10, 15, or 30 years, figured into the payments.The interest is paid first, and the principal balance is paid down after the interest payments are made. The monthly mortgage payment, if not paid on time as agreed can lead to the seller foreclosing the mortgage and repossessing the land, with all payments on interest and principal made by the buyer prior to the foreclosure being forfeited in the process.
Another way people can be legally allowed the use of real estate is for that real estate to be leased to the user rather than sold. In this event one party is allowed to use a certain amount of land, usually with a dwelling or commercial building upon it for a certain amount of time for a certain amount of money. The terms under which the land and its improvements (as the buildings on the land are called) are to be used by the non-owning party are usually set out in a written contract called a lease. The lease gives the person paying the owner the right for certain amount of time to use the leased properties in any way consistent with local laws, as the paying person or lessee may see fit. The lease or contract for use of the property sets out the specific terms of how much is to be paid by the tenant (lessee) to use the property, to which uses the property may be put, and the duration of the time that the tenant is enabled to use the property. Landlord tenant law is a body of law that deals with real estate being rented and is a huge body of law in and of itself. Having served as the sole attorney for the Springfield public Housing Authority, I have immense experience in the field of landlord tenant law.
Estate planning is the body of law that is concerned with the passage of property from those dying to those surviving. In Missouri, there is a body of law called nonprobate transfers which allows a party to carefully plan and set out in advance where that party’s property is to go upon the party’s death, without the property having to go through court and the probate process. In past years the last will and testament was the only way by which a decedent was able to pass her or his property on to his or her survivors. Unfortunately, properties passing to survivors through a last will and testament have to be probated or run through the court system in the County the decedent lived, before that property could devolve to the decedent's survivors. The probate process is notorious for taking many months and large amounts of money to accomplish. In the probate process the deceased party’s survivors must petition the court to allow the decedent's property to pass to them. In nonprobate transfers, the decedent's survivors have no affirmative duty whatsoever, and the decedent’s properties transfer to the decedent’s beneficiaries automatically upon the death of the decedent. If more complex instructions are necessary, then in that event the decedent may wish to execute a trust to receive his or her property upon his or her death, which trust by its terms will describe what property goes to whom and under what conditions and when.
Family law is the body of law which concerns divorce and custody. When two parties marry, a legal relationship is established between them which requires court action to terminate. This court action is called divorce and in the process of divorce any children produced by the divorcing couple must be provided for and assured of good stable home after the divorce is finalized. The body of law collectively called domestic law or family law also includes adoptions and Guardianships. Adoptions are the legal equivalent of having a child, and guardianships provide that the appointed person or guardian have legal powers over a minor or a disabled person who is too young or otherwise is unable to care for him or herself. This is an area of law in which bad feelings and judgment lead to bitter unfortunate consequences. Divorce in and of itself is hard and unpleasant, but when a divorce affects the lives of children involved that are simply caught up in something that is not their fault, the results can be catastrophic. The best divorce and custody agreements are made by the parties to the divorce and are made with the best interests of the children first and foremost in the decision process.
Arbitration is a form of ADR, or alternative dispute resolution, and can be substituted for the judicial or administrative decision-making bodies which normally decide legal issues. In arbitration the parties or different sides to a legal dispute agree that they will have their dispute decided by a non-interested third party called an arbitrator, or by a panel of non-interested persons called an arbitration panel. When the parties contractually agree to arbitration, then the decision of the arbitrator or panel can be made as binding and enforceable as a judicial decision. The good thing about arbitration is that it is almost always cheaper and faster than forcing a decision through formal legal processes. The parties to an arbitration put on the evidence which they believe supports their side of a legal issue, using an attorney to do this work or not as the arbitration agreement may allow, and when they have put on all the evidence they wish to present, the other side does the same thing, and then the arbitrator or arbitration panel makes its decision. In the event the parties agree to arbitration but not to be bound by the arbitration decision, arbitration can be used as a good predictor of what might happen if the parties actually do go formal legal trial. Persons with experience as an administrative law judges or members of administrative law panels are good choices for potential arbitrators, as are retired judges. The rates they charge to sit in arbitration or on an arbitration panel are generally much cheaper than the hourly charges of attorneys who normally turn in hundreds of hours in preparation for a formal legal trial.
Mediation is another form of ADR, but instead of rendering a decision, mediation is designed to allow the parties to a legal dispute to craft their own decision through compromise and discussion. The mediator is a person trained to help enable the parties reach a fair and equitable compromise decision of their legal dispute. A mediator facilitates the parties in crafting their own decision. Mediations typically take less than half a day and employ the knowledge of the parties to craft a compromise decision which in many cases is far superior to a decision rendered by a court which is bound by the rules of evidence and civil procedure. Mediation looms largely in the future of all civil litigation in this country. Already mediation is a mandatory prerequisite to any divorce decree by any court in the state of Missouri and many other states of the union. In utilizing the parties’ own knowledge to craft a decision which takes into account both sides of the dispute rather than a winner takes all, win or lose decision by a civil court, mediation tends to obtain the best possible compromised decision. Neither party actually loses or wins, and both parties walk away with only a fraction of the cost and time spent which would be required for a jury or bench formal legal trial.
Blue Collar Lawyer, LLC has experience in all types of law practices. Our experiences is not just limited to the types of practices listed above. For more information, or to see if we are a right fit for your situation please contact Blue Collar Lawyer today.
Have a quick legal question that you need answered by an Expert